Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Into the Chrysalis

VLT Interferometer detects disc around aged star

A team of European astronomers has used ESO's Very Large Telescope Interferometer and its razor-sharp eyes to discover a reservoir of dust trapped in a disc that surrounds an elderly star. The discovery provides additional clues about the shaping of planetary nebulae.

In the last phases of their life, stars such as our Sun evolve from a red giant which would engulf the orbit of Mars to a white dwarf, an object that is barely larger than the Earth. The transition is accomplished by the shedding of a huge envelope of gas and dust that sparkles in many colours, producing a most spectacular object: a planetary nebula. The celestial chrysalis becomes a cosmic butterfly.

This metamorphosis, rapid in terms of the star's lifetime, is rather complex and poorly understood. In particular, astronomers want to understand how a spherical star can produce a great variety of planetary nebulae, some with very asymmetrical shapes.

A team of scientists therefore embarked upon the study of a star which is presently on its way to becoming a cosmic butterfly. The star, V390 Velorum, is 5000 times as bright as our Sun and is located 2,600 light-years away. It is also known to have a companion that accomplishes its ballet in 500 days.

Astronomers postulate that elderly stars with companions possess a reservoir of dust that is thought to play a lead role in the final chapters of their lives. The shape and structure of these reservoirs remain, however, largely unknown.

To scrutinise the object with great precision, the astronomers linked observations taken with ESO's powerful interferometric instruments, AMBER and MIDI, at the Very Large Telescope Interferometer. In particular, they combined, using AMBER, the near-infrared light of three of VLT's 8.2-m Unit Telescopes. "Only this triple combination of powerful telescopes allows us to pinpoint the position and the shape of the dusty reservoir on a milli-arcsecond scale," explains Pieter Deroo, lead-author of the paper that presents these results in the research journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

These observations clearly demonstrate that the dust present around the star cannot be distributed in a spherical shell. "This shows that whatever mechanism is shaping asymmetric planetary nebulae is already present prior to the metamorphosis taking place," says Hans Van Winckel, member of the team.

The astronomers found indeed evidence for a disc extending from 9 Astronomical Units to several hundreds of AU. "This disc is found around a star that is in a very brief phase of its life - just a blink of an eye over the star's lifespan of billions of years - but this phase is very important," says Deroo. "It is in this period that a huge morphological change occurs, leading to the creation of a planetary nebula," he adds.

The very high spatial resolution measurements allowed the astronomers to decouple the unresolved contribution of the central star from the resolved disc emission. Even the very inner structure of the disc as well as its orientation and inclination could be determined. The observations probe the physical nature of the disc and reveal that the dust in the inner rim is extremely hot and puffed up. The disc is circumbinary as it surrounds both stars.

Dust processing (coagulation, crystallisation) is found to be very efficient in this circumbinary disc, despite the rather short evolutionary timescales involved. The disc around this evolved object is very similar to those around young stellar objects, in which planets are formed.

"The combination of MIDI and AMBER on ESO's VLTI is an extremely powerful and perhaps unique tool to study the geometry of the material around stars," concludes Van Winckel.

It looks like it is the season for disc 'hunting': the detection of a dusty disc in the notable Ant Nebula was also just announced (see ESO 42/07).

Henri Boffin | alfa
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Scientists discover particles similar to Majorana fermions
25.10.2016 | Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters

nachricht Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves
24.10.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Struktur und Dynamik der Materie

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging

25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Etching Microstructures with Lasers

25.10.2016 | Process Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>